Noir detective films are never far from this list, it seems. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has come and gone, and there’s more yet, but let’s talk Brick. It takes the language of that hard-boiled world – fast-talking dialogue that tends a little towards the purple, a determined private eye chasing down a case whatever it takes, dames and femme fatales – and plasters it over a high-school setting.
Once you’ve started noticing the links, they’re suddenly everywhere. That teen-noir combination reminds me of Veronica Mars. And if we’re throwing in TV, it’s worth mentioning my blossoming interest in HBO’s Bored to Death. Books, you can include Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union on the list too.
If you’ve got an eye for it, you might notice a pattern, here. These are all one step removed from the actual noir genre itself. I’ve talked about how Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a twisty post-modern parody/homage, a category which Bored to Death and the remaining noir detective film on this list both fall into too.
The pure stuff does less for me. Going back and reading Chandler, there’s something missing. Films I know I would enjoy – from Miller’s Crossing to Chinatown – go untouched. I need my noir cut with something else. And fortunately for me, Brick has teen drama muddled right up in its jet-black DNA.
Is the film a mash-up? That’s certainly what the description I’ve given sounds like: Clueless + Raymond Chandler. Coming out right at the zenith of mash-up culture, is it a product of its time?
Well, not exactly. Like Buffy before it, it identifies that being at school feels like something more than most films set there ever try to capture, and the genre stuff slides in totally naturally. But it never takes the route – like, say, 500 Days of Summer or Submarine – of suggesting that it’s the fantasy of one kid who’s seen too many films.
It’s all played straight, straight as the bullet to your heart that’ll one day kill you. As it should be. It’s no joke, just like your girl leaving you and landing you on the outs with everyone you both knew is no joke. Which, not coincidentally, is exactly how the film starts. Except that when we meet the girl, she’s already dead.
It works on two levels. It’s a good metaphor for how that stuff feels as a teenager, but it’s also a lot more no-nonsense than that. It’s just how things happen in Brick’s world. It’s not all about lining things up neatly, it’s about thrilling stuff happening and keeping you guessing, in a way that pops and fizzles stylishly. It’s about the kinetic feeling of a fist in a face. It’s about how good a fist looks flying towards camera, and cutting sharply away at the last split-second. It’s just plain film noir. I think. I should probably actually see some first.